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Author Topic: Ask an Atheist Anything  (Read 3413 times)

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Offline StrungintandumTopic starter

Ask an Atheist Anything
« on: March 09, 2010, 05:52:20 PM »
With the immense disinformation floating around about who atheists are and what they believe, I thought it might be nice for me to start a thread dedicated to answering the questions of the curious. I am versed in the teachings of various religions with Christianity being my strongest point of study, so don't be afraid to ask me my take on specific scripture. This is not to suggest that I speak for all atheists or even any atheist besides myself, but I do have a good understanding of general atheist viewpoints and can answer pretty much all of the common criticisms and questions most commonly associated with atheism. This thread is not meant to provoke anyone to anger and I will be honest and frank about my beliefs (or lack of belief) on various religious, supernatural and moralistic questions. So, if you are interested, please feel free to ask an atheist anything!

Offline Xenophile

Re: Ask an Atheist Anything
« Reply #1 on: March 09, 2010, 06:41:50 PM »
If rain isn't angel wee, then what is it?  ???

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Re: Ask an Atheist Anything
« Reply #2 on: March 09, 2010, 06:43:12 PM »
Atheism is easy to understand. It's the belief in disbelief. ;)

Offline StrungintandumTopic starter

Re: Ask an Atheist Anything
« Reply #3 on: March 09, 2010, 07:04:03 PM »
Certainly, and yet we are inundated with claims that atheism is antithesis of morality. Atheism is in no way hard to quantify, but I think that a great number of people have a very hard time understanding it. This is not simply due to misunderstandings about what atheism actually is but also an inability of those with theistic views to understand why we don't believe. Being that I am as yet unapproved, I figured this might be a good place to get some discussion started and possibly provide useful information to the curious.

Offline Xenophile

Re: Ask an Atheist Anything
« Reply #4 on: March 09, 2010, 07:42:55 PM »
Yiu use the word "we" very casually. I am going toa ssume you live in the USA, and there exists a very strong political and religious debate. I can understand tat in that nation, there actually exists places where people make the Atheist-Immoral connection.

Though, some of us on the Internet have never encountered that discussion anywhere besides the Internet. I know I haven't, and I have to thank my very secular nation-of-birth for that.

I'll just a little bit informative myself and share that, in Sweden, this isn't even an issue. Religious people get laughed at here.

Online TheVillain

Re: Ask an Atheist Anything
« Reply #5 on: March 09, 2010, 07:46:23 PM »
Just wanted to officially say that in another thread I jokingly refer to this one as "purposeful poo kicking". This is just a bit of tongue-in-cheek on my part, nothing serious meant.

Offline Sure

Re: Ask an Atheist Anything
« Reply #6 on: March 09, 2010, 07:47:29 PM »
Well, since you volunteered. As I understand, Atheism not merely lack of belief in a God but a belief that there is no God and no analogous being exists (if I am wrong here, please correct me).

What I'd be curious to hear is exactly what evidence you have that God doesn't exist? The lack of evidence for the existence of God, or a God, or anything really, is enough to propel one to Agnosticism, which is the assertion that one doesn't know. However, Atheism is the assertion that you know that God doesn't exist, and that requires evidence (at least from a logical/scientific viewpoint, which most Atheists I am aware of tend to claim to ascribe to).

Or do you ascribe to this belief in non-existence dogmatically? That is to say, you don't believe in God in the same irrational way that others believe in God? (Using irrational to mean lacking a logical reason rather than as an insult). In that case, you don't believe in nothing, you believe in a manner exactly the same as religions, only in something wholly different.

I'd also be curious as to what you'd tell people who feel enlightenment, or close to God, or whatever their equivalent is, they are feeling? Just some strange reaction of the brain?

By the way, the idea that atheism is the antithesis of morality is a holdover, or a reality in certain areas, from the times when there was no division between religious and secular. Without this division, the rejection of religion became the wholesale rejection of society and many of its rules. In a secular society, rejecting religion simply does not lead to the same amount of disengagement, but in one that isn't secular rejecting religion would be like someone arguing that every single institution of society, political, moral, and otherwise should be abolished. It is much easier to see why this person would be rejected and villainized. It's also a convenient "Us vs Them" with one side saying, "They're religious nuts over there!" and the other going "They're immoral and impious!" for certain parties who shall remain unnamed.

As to those who don't understand why Atheists exist... there are people like that everywhere, who don't understand why anyone believes anything differently from them. They also tend to be the sort who can't understand why those stupid people over there don't just bow to their beliefs. I've met Atheists who portray their beliefs that way, as well as those who are religious, and many who have a similar attitude in some secular affair.

Offline Xenophile

Re: Ask an Atheist Anything
« Reply #7 on: March 09, 2010, 07:59:48 PM »
People with a scientific outlook on life, who would consider the existence of a God, would most likely do it in a objective and empirical manner. To be very simple in my example, a person with a scientific mindset would say this: "If something exists, prove it" and not: "Prove to me that this doesn't exist".

It's a basic concept in scientific investigation. You need to prove something before you can disprove it. Atheists observe and conclude that there exists no evidence for the existence of a God. With the scientific method fresh in mind, we can conclude that in a scientific theatre, the Atheists does not need to prove his conclusion form his observation, because there exists no facts to support the theory that a God actually exists.

In short, proof must be presented to support a theory (the existence of God in this context), to actually be defendable. If no proof exists, it will be discredited. This is what the Atheist does, discrediting what he perceives as a unsupported theory.

Offline Sure

Re: Ask an Atheist Anything
« Reply #8 on: March 09, 2010, 08:11:29 PM »
A scientific mindset would say, "Prove this to me." with no qualifiers. If you could not prove it, whether a negative (God not existing) or a positive (God existing) then it would not be accepted.

The idea of a default state against which an argument must be made (God must be proven to exist or God doesn't exist) is actually based on legal logic. That is a lawyer's outlook on life. Innocent until proven guilty or, in this case, non-existent until proven existent. You even betrayed that in your language, 'proof' is the legal way of putting and the scientific equivalent is 'evidence'.

Offline StrungintandumTopic starter

Re: Ask an Atheist Anything
« Reply #9 on: March 09, 2010, 08:18:17 PM »
@ Xenophile - Yes, I am from the United States and this is a question that comes up constantly. It affects our political climate to such a great degree that I find it to be a topic worthy of discussion. I realize that many other nations do not have this issue and must say I am a bit envious of it.

@ Sure - Some atheists identify as "I do not believe" and others identify as "No god exists." This is a common misunderstanding on both the aprt of atheists and theists that has been difficult to eradicate. Theism is a belief in a god or gods. Atheism is therefor a lack of belief. Agnosticism is a lack of knowledge, not belief. An individual can be both an Atheist and an Agnostic at once and I believe you would find that most athiests are also agnostic. To sum up my position. I do not know if a god or gods exist and I also do not believe that any do. This is the same as saying I do not actually know if unicorns exist, but I do not believe they do. I do not believe in a god or gods becauses there is no reason for me to believe just as there is no reason for me to believe in unicorns.

There is nothing dogmatic about this view as it can be wholly changed by the addition of information. If we do find strong evidence for the existence of a god, then I will believe it to be true. However, most of the claims about gods that I have seen do not allow for any acceptable evidence to be gathered. As for atheists that claim "no god exists", in my experience, they simply mean they have no good reason to believe it is true, so they assume it isn't. If there is an atheist who is proclaiming absolute knowledge that know god exists, I would say that individual needs to pony up the proof or re-think his stance.

As to enlightenment from a feeling of closeness to god, I would tell them that I do not know why they feel that way and am not qualified to tell them why they do. All I could reasonably say to them is that other explanations for those feelings seem more likely to me than the god hypothesis. It is entierly possible that the feeling they have has no actual link to a god, and to me it seems far more plausible that their feelings are coming for a source that isn't a diety. It seems to me that having a feeling and ascribing a source to that feeling that you have no way of scientifically investigating is a bad idea.

The idea that atheism is the antithesis of morality may be a holdover, but is still extraordinarily prevalent in a great number of churches and books. It also seems that the likely cause of people not understanding how others can believe differently than they do stems from a total misunderstanding of what belief is and how it functions. I don't know how many times I've heard people utter the phrase "They just believe that because they want to" when in fact, the main component of belief is not choice at all. Belief is automatic and is informed by experience it is not simply "chosen".

Online TheVillain

Re: Ask an Atheist Anything
« Reply #10 on: March 09, 2010, 08:22:43 PM »
Actually, the Burden of Proof applies to any field in which a default state can exist. In Science, the default state is the state which is set by previous conclusions arrived from all scientific evidence. The initial arguments against Einstein's General Relativity were Burden of Proof arguments- the difference here is that Einstein pointed out that Newtonian Mechanics can't account for Mercury's Orbital Precision while General Relativity can. A few tests confirmed this, and Einstein's General Relativity met it's Burden of Proof.

In this case the default conclusion is "There is no God" because God is unnecessary for our understanding of the universe and Occam's Razor tells us that if something has been shown to be unnecessary for our understanding of the universe it most likely doesn't exist.

This however also means that all the theists need to meet their Burden of Proof is a single piece of Empirical, Unbiased evidence that god exists. The fact that they have failed to produce a single piece of Empirical, Unbiased evidence that god exists since the beginning of scientific inquiry is no fault of the scientists.

Offline Xenophile

Re: Ask an Atheist Anything
« Reply #11 on: March 09, 2010, 08:26:54 PM »
I get the feeling that I have given a argument, and you, Sure, completely disqualified my point and argument because it could be equated with despicable and immoral lawyer practice.

A scientist must prove his theory. If someone in a scientific arena debates about the existence of God, His existence must first be established in order for a legitimate discussion to even be considered. If a scientist says "the horse shoe crab nebula is made out of farts" and presents no proof, there will of course NOT be a massive investigation that will try to disprove that scientist's claims. That is simple scientific method.

Offline Sure

Re: Ask an Atheist Anything
« Reply #12 on: March 09, 2010, 09:00:52 PM »
@Villain: Burden of proof arguments? No, they weren't. Burden of proof arguments presents no counter evidence but demands that the other side prove something. There is a default state assumed to be true. Einstein's theory was attempting to explain data and managed to explain it in a more accurate, elegant, and precise way than other theories and so was adopted. At no point did either side attempt to prove the other side's theories wrong, simply their own more capable of predicting outcomes in an elegant, accurate, and precise manner.

Occam's Razor tells us that the most elegant solution is preferable. It does not argue that if we cannot prove something it doesn't exist. A large problem with applying science to this is that science is meant for measurable phenomenon. God is not a measurable phenomenon but that is not grounds, scientifically, to assert non-existence. Irrelevance to science would be something you could assert using Occam's Razor.

Religion has no burden of proof to scientifically prove itself because science does not shift burden of proof or even have the concept. If neither side can provide evidence for its theories then neither side is accepted and no comment is made on the matter. And I would point out that the Atheists have failed to produce a single piece of evidence God doesn't exist. That lack of evidence is not proof that God exists. Nor is the lack of evidence proof that God does not exist. Scientifically the lack of evidence is proof of nothing at all. But it does mean that the Atheists have no better argument about God's existence than Theists. From a scientific point of view, there is no grounds to make any claim.

@Xeno: Really? I hold no particular ill will against lawyers. It is just a sort of logic, and my point was that you're using a different system of logic than a scientific one and disqualifying it in that sense, yes.

A scientist must prove his theory, yes. But asserting the non-existence of God is a theory in the same way asserting the existence of God is. So either must be proven. There is no default state of non-existence. A scientist believes in nothing until evidence is presented, a scientist does not believe that something is untrue until evidence is presented.


Ultimately, though, I think science fits poorly into this debate. We're dealing with beliefs here, and Atheism is in my opinion a belief, not science nor backed by science. Your arguments, by the way, are sound from certain logical viewpoints, just unscientific.

Offline StrungintandumTopic starter

Re: Ask an Atheist Anything
« Reply #13 on: March 09, 2010, 09:01:33 PM »
A scientific mindset would say, "Prove this to me." with no qualifiers. If you could not prove it, whether a negative (God not existing) or a positive (God existing) then it would not be accepted.

The idea of a default state against which an argument must be made (God must be proven to exist or God doesn't exist) is actually based on legal logic. That is a lawyer's outlook on life. Innocent until proven guilty or, in this case, non-existent until proven existent. You even betrayed that in your language, 'proof' is the legal way of putting and the scientific equivalent is 'evidence'.

The problem here is, as Xeno pointed out, there are literally infinite numbers of things you cannot prove or disprove because tehre is no information available. The scientific mindset does not automatically accept or deny anything for which there is no information (Ise use information here instead of proof because it fits better I think). But this is why it is of no use to discuss the existance or non-existance of god. A more useful discussion covers whether the belief in a god is justified or even useful. That is something we can gather information about and we can discuss. The scientific mindset would say that, because tehre is no information, tehre can be no knowledge. Hence, agnosticism. The scientific mindset can also say becase there is no information, there is no justifyable reason to believe. Hence, atheism.

Any comparison to legal proofs is not useful because science and the justice system have two different goals. The position alloted a defendant is given extra weight because the purpose of the system is to incarcerate as few innocent people as possible. THis has the consequence of letting bad people go free. Science does not allot extra weight to any position because the rules and goals of science are not the same as the justice system. Conflating the two is useless.

Offline StrungintandumTopic starter

Re: Ask an Atheist Anything
« Reply #14 on: March 09, 2010, 09:10:03 PM »
Sure - it is literally impossible to prove the non-existance of something. Prove to me that unicorns don't exist or that clocks don't actually work because of tiny invisible watch demons. What's more, saying that "unicorns don't exist" isn't a hypothesis. A hypothesis must come from observation. Since you can't observe something not existing, you can't form a hypothesis about its non-existance. This is why science specifically deals with the observable and why, as you pointed out science does not apply to the god question. The question isn't "does god exist", the question is, "is there any reason to believe that he/she/it/they does".

Offline Jude

Re: Ask an Atheist Anything
« Reply #15 on: March 09, 2010, 09:17:45 PM »
Sure - it is literally impossible to prove the non-existance of something.
That's not true in many instances.  Mathematics for one, but there are certain things which are logically impossible or impossible if we accept the natural laws science has discovered.

I think you can prove and disprove specific instances of god, but not the generalized concept of a higher being.

Obviously if the "religious system" set up is self-contradictory, that version of god cannot exist.
« Last Edit: March 09, 2010, 09:21:16 PM by Jude »

Offline StrungintandumTopic starter

Re: Ask an Atheist Anything
« Reply #16 on: March 09, 2010, 09:29:41 PM »
That's not true in many instances.  Mathematics for one, but there are certain things which are logically impossible or impossible if we accept the natural laws science has discovered.

I think you can prove and disprove specific instances of god, but not the concept of a higher being.

Obviously if the "religious system" set up is self-contradictory, that version of god cannot exist.

I used the term observe because we were referencing science. If you shift the context to math, then replace observe with quantify. Speaking in a more all-encompassing context, you cannot prove what you have no information for. You cna disprove specific gods because you now have information about those gods. What Sure was saying was that science has to prove that a being it has no information about does not exist. That is impossible. It would have been different if he would have said that we had to prove the god of the bible does not exist. That we could do in a heartbeat.

Online TheVillain

Re: Ask an Atheist Anything
« Reply #17 on: March 09, 2010, 09:59:07 PM »
For the Record, Sure, there is a Burden of Proof definition that does apply directly to Philosophy- of which Science uses.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philosophic_burden_of_proof

And for more reading, Sure, here's a little bit on the Scientific Method.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_method

Offline Sure

Re: Ask an Atheist Anything
« Reply #18 on: March 09, 2010, 10:12:50 PM »
Why, thank you, Villain.

Quote
Philosophic Burden of Proof is the obligation on a party in an epistemic dispute to provide sufficient warrant for their position.

Epistemic (which means philosophical, if you weren't aware). Not scientific.

Oh, and there's even a little graph on the page showing how you do have burden of proof in order to prove fairies don't exist! So you would still need to present the proof. Wonderful little thing for what I was saying about how neither side had evidence and so neither side could make claims. The same graph even has no burden of proof for someone who says they don't know... which is what I'm saying I understand perfectly, it is only those who take it a step further and say they know there isn't a God I am questioning here.

Quote
To be termed scientific, a method of inquiry must be based on gathering observable, empirical and measurable evidence subject to specific principles of reasoning.

Neither side has observable, empirical, measurable evidence. Therefore neither side has a scientific method of inquiry. In other words, what I said.

Offline StrungintandumTopic starter

Re: Ask an Atheist Anything
« Reply #19 on: March 09, 2010, 10:25:21 PM »
Sure - This only applies if your claiming that an undefined god exists, which is itself illogical. The moment you begin making claims about said god, then we can begin the process of inquiry. The god of the christian bible, for instance, is logically impossible and we can therefor rule out his existence. This is handled on a logical level because it cannot be handled on a scientific level. Saying that science has to prove an undefined god's non-existence is nonsensicle, that is why the burden of proof exists in this argument, because in order for us to reach the level of science you have to meet your burden of proof. If you can't meet your burden of proof about a claim, invoking science's inability to deal with said claim is laughable. But that isn't even really important. If the god claim does not even pass the mustard of logically possible, there is no reason to bring science up at all. And as I said, claiming the existence of an undefined unknown is itself illogical.

Offline Sure

Re: Ask an Atheist Anything
« Reply #20 on: March 09, 2010, 10:38:49 PM »
Logically impossible? How is that, exactly? You'll need to back that assertion up.

I'm saying science has to prove God's non-existence if you want to say science supports Atheism in the sense of saying there is no God. I am not that science's inability to deny God's existence is proof of God's existence. Really, if anything, my argument is approaching true Agnosticism because I'm increasingly arguing Atheists are wrong because you cannot know in either the positive or the negative, rather than a Theistic argument.

I have no burden of proof in any inquiry into God's existence since I have made no claim in regards to God's actual existence.

Online TheVillain

Re: Ask an Atheist Anything
« Reply #21 on: March 09, 2010, 10:58:54 PM »
A bit of a backslide compared to what you said before but it's into territory that's closer to right so I won't push it.

My point was that Science leans in favor in there being no god- as there's no evidence for the existence of god and there's no sign that god is necessary. Logically speaking, if there's no proof something exists and it doesn't seem necessary for the universe to function then odds are good that it doesn't exist until something about that changes. I have no proof that there's a Frenchman with Red Hair and there's no reason to believe a Frenchman with Red Hair is necessary for the universe to function so logically odds are good it doesn't exist. Show me evidence that a Frenchman with Red Hair does exist and I am forced to change my position.

Science is in the same position. There is no proof that god exists and no reason to assume a god is necessary for the universe to function, therefore odds are it doesn't exist. Show us proof and the position will change. If Atheism also follows a similar line of reasoning it's not so much that Science supports Atheism as they haven't been shown to disagree- unlike Science and, say, Christianity.

The Burden of Proof still lies with the theists though. Show some evidence and you Christians will get an invite to the big boys table.

 :P

Offline Sure

Re: Ask an Atheist Anything
« Reply #22 on: March 09, 2010, 11:08:27 PM »
And I would say we've left science behind by the point you mentioned and have moved into philosophy. Your argument makes sense but is unscientific. Perhaps it's just a debate about what is philosophy and what is science, specifically.

"you Christians"? Whoever said I was a Christian or a Theist? Perhaps I just like playing devil's advocate and debating. >:)

Offline StrungintandumTopic starter

Re: Ask an Atheist Anything
« Reply #23 on: March 09, 2010, 11:33:03 PM »
Logically impossible? How is that, exactly? You'll need to back that assertion up.

I'm saying science has to prove God's non-existence if you want to say science supports Atheism in the sense of saying there is no God. I am not that science's inability to deny God's existence is proof of God's existence. Really, if anything, my argument is approaching true Agnosticism because I'm increasingly arguing Atheists are wrong because you cannot know in either the positive or the negative, rather than a Theistic argument.

I have no burden of proof in any inquiry into God's existence since I have made no claim in regards to God's actual existence.

Again, atheism does not go to knowledge, it goes to belief. Theism is defined as a belief in a god or gods. Atheism is the opposite of that position, it is the lack of belief in a god or gods. Atheism is not the knowledge that no god or gods exists and anyone who defines it that was is mistaken. So why does science back up atheism as a belief? Science is based on observation, which leads to experience, which leads to belief. There is no credible evidence that a god or gods has ever been observed. Therefore, there is no credible evidence that anyone has ever experienced a god or gods. Therefore there is no credible reason to believe in a god or gods.

Now, I asserted two gods as logically impossible so I'm not sure which one you wnated me to back up. The undefined god is illogical because you can't build a logical sylligism on no information. The christian god is illogical because it is logically impossible for a being to be all powerful and all knowledgeable at the same time. If god knows you are going to do something, and is unable to stop you, he is not all powerful. If a god knows you are going to do something and has the power to stop you, he has invalidated that knowledge. So he either knows everything and cannot change anything or he is all powerful and does not have all knowledge. This does not even go into other contradictory statements such as his being all powerful but unable to be around sin or his being all merciful but also wrathful. There is ample biblical evidence that the christian god cannot logically exist.

You are correct in that if you assert no god you have no burden of proof. What we are saying is that those who do assert a god have a burden of proof. But, to repeate the mantra, science's inability to disprove a god isn't really important to anything, the important question is, "is there any justifyable reason to believe a god exists?"




Offline Jude

Re: Ask an Atheist Anything
« Reply #24 on: March 10, 2010, 03:59:15 AM »
It's perfectly scientific and logical to disprove something by assumption of truth.  You simply show that errors arise from it; it's called proof by contradiction.  Religions can be picked apart by similar means,  not all, but most.

Deism is one of the few that are logically sound.  Christianity has more holes in it than ozone layer.
« Last Edit: March 10, 2010, 04:01:06 AM by Jude »